Will Danica Patrick ever be a championship contender in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series? That is a good question. First, we have have to ask ourselves exactly what a championship contender is.
To me, just making the Chase does not a contender make. But, for you, that may not be the case. If making it into the 12-team Chase field defines you as a championship contender, then I can see her doing that someday. If she gets the equipment that can give her a chance to run up front most weeks, she could do it.
If given the cars capable of running up front, she has the talent to get them there. We saw that at Daytona—when given a good, fast car, she kept it in contention. To judge her on the races following Daytona is a bit unfair, because to be honest, her teammates have not run very well since then, either.
Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman are as talented as anyone in the game, yet they are not running very well these days, either. It is obvious that Stewart-Haas has not figured out the setup on the new Gen 6 cars. Newman currently sits 17th in points, while Stewart is 21st. Patrick is 25th.
But, in my opinion, making the Chase is not enough.
There are 16 teams in the NBA playoffs. How many are really championship contenders? The Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs and maybe the New York Knicks. The other 12 teams in the field are just waiting to be eliminated. Were the Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers or Boston Celtics ever really a championship contender? No.
To be a contender, you have to be in the Chase. But also when looking at the Chase drivers, you must be one of the three or four who make people say, "That guy has a shot."
Who are they? They are Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Stewart, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Jeff Gordon and maybe Kurt Busch—whoever is running well in that particular year.
You could get some guys like Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton or even Greg Biffle who might be in the Chase in a particular year, and may even stay in the running through the first seven or eight races. But you pretty much know it will be Johnson or Stewart over them. Some drivers have "it" and some don't.
Guys that win championships can usually be spotted early on in their careers. When they are coming up through the ranks, they win. They win Camping World Truck races and Nationwide Series races. Look at drivers who are winning championships. Stewart wins Nationwide races whenever he is in them. He also used to win Indy races, even winning a championship in that series.
Gordon won Nationwide events coming up. Busch dominates truck and Nationwide races every time he gets in them. You want to spot a future championship contender? How about Joey Logano or Kyle Larson? Those guys win races in the lower series.
Patrick spent five or six years running in the Indy Car Series and won one race. Then she spent a year in the Nationwide Series and didn't win any. OK, had some idiot not thrown a shoe on the track she may have gotten one. This tells me she may not have what it takes to contend for a Sprint Cup Championship.
If you want to stay up front with the elites of the sport, then you better be tough to beat when running in the minor leagues. So far, she hasn't been.
Patrick may one day win a few races. But contend for a Sprint Cup championship? I don't think so.